As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.
Another spin on the 80/20 rule, says Dr. Lipman: stopping eating when you're 80% full. That means slowing down and checking in periodically throughout the meal about what your body is saying. Does the food no longer taste great? Are you getting that "I don't really need any more feeling"? Thinking 80/20 as you eat can help slow you down and be more mindful. Being in tune with your body prevents overeating, he says.
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.
Whether you're visiting the drug store, grocery or natural food shop you'll likely find an aisle where there are jars and bottles of things for you to put in your body that are neither foods nor medicines. Ranging from vitamins and minerals to fiber and herbal remedies, these supplements are not regulated in the same way as either food or medicine. Some of them are backed by solid research, others are folk remedies or proprietary cures. If your diet does not include enough of certain vitamins or minerals, a supplement may be a good idea. Natural treatment for conditions like constipation may be effective. But because these substances are unregulated, it is always a good idea to educate yourself about the products and to use common sense when taking them. This is even more true if you are pregnant or taking a medicine that may be affected by supplements.
Processing of food reduces its nutritional content, and the finished products are often based on fractions of the original foods. One example is milling grain to make white flour, [1] which has a lower nutritional density than whole grain flour. The reduction in nutritional value has accelerated since whole foods are now divided into pieces, for example, boneless chicken breast. When meat is injected with saline to increase the volume, the relative level of essential nutrients is reduced. In the United States, many supermarkets in low-income rural and inner city areas have a limited selection of nutrient-dense foods, compared with high-income areas. [28]
Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include fatigue and headaches. After menopause, body iron generally increases. Therefore, iron deficiency in women older than 50 years of age may indicate blood loss from another source and should be checked by a physician.
Ditching the habit and instead focus on good-for-you foods, says Frank Lipman, MD, integrative and functional medicine physician, founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center and author of The New Health Rules. Instead of how many calories, ask yourself where the food came from and if it's nutritious. "Healthy, nutrient-rich foods will keep hunger at bay, help maintain stable blood sugar levels, minimize cravings, and help your brain signal your belly when you're full," he says. In other words, you don't have to go through all the trouble of counting.
Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).
Carbohydrates should provide 45%–65% of your daily calories. Most of those calories should come from the complex carbohydrates in high-fiber and unrefined foods, such as bran cereal and other whole-grain products, brown rice, beans and other legumes, and many fruits and vegetables. These carbohydrates are digested and absorbed slowly, so they raise the blood sugar gradually and don't trigger a large release of insulin. People who eat lots of these foods have higher HDL ("good") cholesterol levels and a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. A good amount of soluble fiber in the diet lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and high-fiber diets reduce the risk of intestinal disorders ranging from constipation and diverticulosis to hemorrhoids. Some studies have shown that fiber may help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Men need more fiber than women: 38 vs. 25 grams a day before the age of 50 and 30 vs. 21 grams a day thereafter.
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